Many people think that sex after 50 doesn’t exist, and that sex is the preserve of bright young things – teenagers and 20-year-olds, perhaps 30-year-olds at a stretch.
But the truth the matter is that people over 50 are just as interested in sex as anybody else – and sex in midlife can be wonderful.
One of the problems is that myths are spreading in society about what we can expect from sex in our later years – for example, there’s a common belief that people lose interest in sex after a certain age. The truth is that while sex may occur less frequently, our interest in sex doesn’t diminish: what does change, however, is the nature of sex and the quality of the factors that play into our sexual desire.
For example, it’s been demonstrated that people over 50 need a better quality relationship to get sexual satisfaction and pleasure than those in their 20s and 30s.
This is because we enjoy sexual connection and intimacy more as we get older – for example, it may become an affirmation of the relationship rather than just the release of sexual desire, perhaps. It’s also a commonly held myth that men will become less functional sexually as they get older – perhaps suffering erectile dysfunction.
The truth is not so simple: men may experience low sexual desire because they have less testosterone, but what they actually need to get an erection is direct physical stimulation to the penis rather than just relying on their imagination or indeed their historical expected response – to get aroused – from simply being near a woman who wants to be sexually intimate.
And it’s certainly true that erections can be less firm as a man gets older, but that doesn’t make any difference to the pleasure of sex. The use of lubricant, either natural or artificial, will ensure that penetration and enjoyable intercourse is still possible.
On the female side of this equation, a lot of people believe that women become much less interested in sex after menopause – but the truth is diametrically opposite.
Freed from the burden of pregnancy, and the possibility of becoming pregnant, women can release their energies more freely during sexual intercourse and intimacy.
The main problems they face are about hormonal levels – vaginal dryness, in particular, can be a problem which causes discomfort during sex. Fortunately there are medications which are available such as estrogen supplementation in pellet form which can be placed directly in the vagina.
And it’s certainly untrue that a woman loses her ability to reach orgasm she gets older – that’s ludicrous! Often a woman’s orgasm frequency and intensity is much greater after the menopause.
When men can’t get an erection, they tend to lose a major part of their self-image of being a fertile and sexual man. Often the problem is physical – circulation problems, prostate problems, and sometimes side effects of prescription medications can all affect a man’s ability to get an erection. These PHYSICAL causes account for the vast majority of erectile difficulties.
Of course sex won’t stay the same as you get older, that’s inevitable because your fitness and health change, and it can be difficult, for example, to get into certain sexual positions.
But it’s important to keep sight of the fact that if you’re in a long-term relationship, you almost certainly know your partner very intimately indeed, and you’ll be very familiar with each other’s bodies.
This allows for a greater level of relaxation and confidence during sexual activity, and this in turn will produce much better and more enjoyable sex for both the man and the woman.
And because (inevitably) hormones are declining, and your sex drive with them, in many cases sex becomes the result of emotional attachment rather than simply physical desire – which makes it more satisfying and fulfilling for almost everybody.
Where a couple find sex less rewarding and fulfilling, the reason is likely to be some kind of emotional issue – perhaps a man or his partner has failed to accept the fact that aging is inevitable, with all the implications this has for damage to self-image.
Moving gracefully into old age is vital, and to accept who you are as you get older, may not be a simple process. It relies on emotional stability, emotional maturity, and acceptance of what is, rather than what you would like things to be.
Strangely enough, women tend find this process more easy than men – which is probably something to do with men having to retire and give up their work; this forms a massive part of most men’s self-identity throughout most of their life.
If you’re experiencing any difficulty about the changes happening to you in midlife, it’s well with finding a therapist or counsellor who has experience in this field.
Men need to be aware that fat cells can produce estrogen – this can be a major problem in men because it preferentially attaches to cellular testosterone receptors. Therefore, if you are a man, and you’re overweight, it could be helpful to lose weight and improve fitness. Women, too, need to look after their health – circulatory problems can often be caused or made worse by obesity. So if you want to experience rapid weight loss you might like to try the Venus Factor diet for women.
Suggestions for women and men over 50 years of age
There is a widespread view that sex for women ends around the time of the menopause. And indeed, many women beyond 50 don’t seem to have much of a sex life.
Unfortunately, this problem isn’t limited to women who’ve gone through the menopause: in 1999 the American Medical Association published a study which revealed that as many as 43% of women aged between 18 and 59 have experienced some sexual problem – lack of desire, pain during intercourse, low arousal, performance anxiety, or anorgasmia.
What is more surprising is that these sexual problems were not limited to any particular age group: another study revealed that 36% of women with sexual problems were aged below 40, 32% were in their 40s and 50s, and 31% had gone through the menopause. That shows age alone isn’t the cause of the reduction in a woman’s sexual desire and activity.
In fact, some experts have argued that women can have the best sex of their lives after they’ve gone through the menopause.
This isn’t just because the menopause provides a natural breakpoint in life which gives women a very good reason to examine how their lives are working, and perhaps to change what they’re doing, it’s also because women of this age have the wisdom and sexual experience to be fully in tune with their sexuality and to enjoy it to the full.
The question is of course how many women over 50 are aware of this, and how many of them know how to grasp their sexual potential and enjoy it to the full.
Myths and facts about men over 50
Culturally, we live in a society where women over 50 have traditionally not been seen as particularly sexually active, and certainly not sexually active with men much younger than themselves.
However, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence that men in their 30s, and possibly even younger, find women in their 50s increasingly attractive.
Sex is entering a whole new territory: men over 50 may find that their erections are less certain and less firm, and that their overall level of sexual desire has decreased.
Dating advice for men over 50
Women over 50, given all the advantages of a place in life where they can relinquish responsibility for family and home, begin to focus more on themselves; potentially they have more discretionary income and the freedom to help them enjoy it; above all, these days, they may find themselves the object of sexual desire from men in a way they never expected to encounter at this time of life.
And, of course, the other thing that helps women cope with life changes is that they are used to them – for women, change in status and expectations are common as they move from adolescence into young womanhood, then to marriage or relationship, then to motherhood.
Later, as they let the children go, they move into the adventures of midlife and the menopause…no wonder a woman has the experience of and ability to cope with change!
Furthermore, after the age of 50 a woman has no agenda about having children, and her biological clock has stopped ticking. She’s probably overcome the fantasy of a man riding in to save her on a white charger (metaphorically speaking!); she may not expect a man to rescue her or carry her off in a dream of romance; she is probably learning how to live fully in her own sexuality and wisdom, despite the things in life that may have disappointed her and the dreams that may not have been fulfilled.
Empowered and accepting it’s OK to be sexual, a woman around this age can explore her sexuality, possibly seek romance, and certainly expect to achieve sexual satisfaction.
This is something that can happen to all women, not just those who find themselves single in midlife: women in a stable, long-term, committed relationship can move from a place where sex is either unsatisfying or infrequent to a place where sex is an important part of everyday life, and provides many satisfying orgasms.
In short, 50 can represent the start of a whole new phase of life; even though you’ve lived through the fertile years of adulthood and perhaps brought up children, fifty represents a time of potential transition from first adulthood to second adulthood.
What’s more, if you’re healthy when you reach 50 your chance of getting to a ripe old age is very high: a woman in the US free of cancer and heart disease at the age of 50 can now expect to live to 92, according to epidemiological research.
Gail Sheehy coined the terms first adulthood and second adulthood. She said that in our first adulthood we’re simply consumed with moving from A to B to C — meaning, I assume, that we move from one stage of life to another almost inevitably as people have done for generations: moving out of the family home, separating from our parents, testing our ability to survive as independent adults, developing intimate relationships, and gaining the skills and abilities that we need to support ourselves in life before we put down our own roots, and then have a family.
Obviously it’s a mistake to believe that you can hang onto the same values that sustain you up to age 50 in the years beyond that, for the expectations that life puts on you are quite different, and so are the responsibilities that you will have.
In other words, you need to adapt your expectations and beliefs about life and yourself to be able to enjoy your second adulthood beyond fifty years of age, and to feel less anxiety and greater self-confidence and fulfillment.
A natural transition beyond the age of 50 for both men and women is to find yourself feeling less competitively driven, feeling a pull to take on a role that is more like that of mentor or teacher to those younger than yourself.
Of course, it’s entirely possible that you can, say, start a business and remain busy, achieving “great things”, but in general the pace of life slows down.
The mellowing that occurs in the majority of people after the age of 50 means that their focus may well be different to the years before: perhaps more spiritual, directed to greater self-fulfilment, and in the area of sexuality, certainly devoted to exploration, finding satisfaction, and maybe even having new adventures.
And at the same time, we recognize that these are easy words to say, because many women are trapped in marriages where sex has died, or where the relationship itself is simply not fulfilling any longer. The question for many women then is: do I stay or do I go?
And what is going to happen to me? Is this about this emotional fulfilment, or sexual fulfilment, or both? As far as this website is concerned, the emphasis is on achieving greater sexual pleasure and satisfaction, no matter what your life situation, after the age of 50.
Men Over 50 and Testosterone Supplementation
Sexual Pleasure For Women After 50
We will have a look at many issues as we go through the various aspects of achieving sexual satisfaction after 50, including male sexual desire (or, rather, the lack of it!), how a relationship can grow rather than stultify, and most importantly of all, how it is possible to achieve greater sexual satisfaction and pleasure even in the face of what appears to be a lowered sex drive.
A woman in her 50s is often moving from a position where she serves others like parents, teachers, husbands, lovers, partners, and other powerful people, into a place where she seeks greater mastery and independence: a fulfilment of her own emotional, physical and career potential.
She can stop pleasing other people, and start pleasing herself; she may feel a sense of power, or a desire to achieve independence and fulfilment in some other way.
Possibly what underlies all of this is a search for meaning that emerges round about midlife in most human beings.
The search for meaning encompasses many things, and its exact nature is different in almost everyone, because what is emotionally and psychologically significant to each of us is slightly different.
What lies at the root of the search for meaning is a search for personal fulfillment.
This can take any form — you can think of it, in shorthand, as the opportunity to actually achieve something personally significant.
Along with this change there ought to be a natural sense of something evolving (or dying) as you give birth to new dreams, new aspirations, new expectations, and hopefully more fulfilling relationships.
It seems that women over 50 are not as willing as they once were to settle for the stability of a marriage that has no intimacy, emotional connection, or sexual fulfillment.
Gail Sheehy interviewed hundreds of women in the course of writing her book “Sex and the seasoned woman”, and she had access to the membership of The Third Age, an online website with more than a million members, designed to focus on the needs of midlife adults.
Her interviews and research in this group demonstrated that women seem to divide fairly natural into five groups which she called: Passionates; Seekers; WMDs (women married, dammit!); SQs (status quos); and LLs (lowered libidos).
The Passionates, who represented 40% of the total, were described as healthy, independent, sexy women anywhere between their late 40s and their 80s.
They usually had a measure of financial independence, and passionate about their work or a cause, and usually involved with someone romantically — whether that be post-divorce or in a long-term marriage. These women often say that they enjoy more romance and novelty in their sex play since the children left home, and many of them have been widowed, but have found new sexual relationships easily.
Seekers look forward to new relationships eagerly, anticipating the pleasure of being in sexual relationship with great satisfaction.
Judging by the descriptions that Sheehy gives of her interviewees and participants, these women have always found sex important, but in this period of their life it assumes a new importance: their orgasms are more powerful and more satisfying, and there may be a blossoming of their sexuality.
The third category that Sheehy identified was that of WMD.
These women represented 15% of the total. They were women who were frustrated by marriages that had been sexually or emotionally empty for some time, or women who felt victimized by a man who was an alcoholic, an adulterer, or lacking in fundamental masculine values (power, compassion, inner strength, vulnerability, etc).
Unfortunately these women didn’t feel ready to change direction, and they didn’t have a passionate interest that could provide them with the energy to change direction.
Most of these women had given up on sex: they were too angry, or too busy, or too resentful, and many of them were looking for reciprocity in their relationships — and not finding it. Some of them were having affairs; some were eager to have sex; in general they didn’t find their partners satisfying, and their marriages were failing to provide fulfillment.
Next, Sheehy identified the SQs or status quos,12% of the total.
These women were resigned rather than happy. Like the WMDs, they didn’t have a burning dream or a new love, but felt that maintaining the status quo was preferable to the risk and discomfort of any change. In many cases they had long-standing marriages, though sex had often dwindled to zero.
However the women didn’t seem to care, for even if their husbands were having affairs, the SQs would turn a blind eye. In general they seemed to have personalities that were anxious or shy, or they lacked the confidence to seek out sexual relationships.
The next group was the LL’s — the lowered libidos — who also represented 12% of the total.
These women had totally given up on sex, or were simply complying with their husbands’ or partners’ demands. Most of them were married, and most of the rest were divorced; the only thing that they all had in common was that they had had a lowered libido since going through the menopause.
Gail Sheehy In Person
This group don’t do anything about it, they don’t even find the motivation to take hormone replacement therapy or vaginal estrogen and they rarely enjoy masturbation or introduce a novelty into their marriages. Once again, like the SQs, they put very little energy into seeking any change in their situation.
Sheehy makes the point that these categories are not fixed, in the sense that we can move between different categories at different points in our lives, a fact which might be encouraging for women who feel stuck in a situation that seems suffocating and prevents them from growing.
One of the things that comes across again and again in her book is that women over 50 who make the leap out of a dead or dying relationship — whether propelled by desperation or by desire — say that they are having the best sex of their lives.
It’s fascinating how a point in the development of a woman’s life which has traditionally been regarded as the end of her sexually active period can in fact be precisely the opposite and lead to exuberant, joyous sex which provides more fulfilment than ever before.
But of course the question is, what’s actually necessary to achieve this? Is good health essential, or financial independence? Do you need to be an optimistic personality to attract a mate who wants to enjoy sex with you? Or is it about your luck?
The answer is that whatever situation you’re in at the moment, whether married or divorced, whether living with a partner where sex is dull or indeed completely non-existent, this is the time at which you have to do something to achieve a more passionate life, and that might mean making some important choices.
So the questions that you might need to ask yourself include:
Who am I now that I’ve reached maturity?
What do I see as the benefits of middle age?
What do I see as the threats and opportunities of growing old?
Do I have a passionate interest in something that sustains me?
How is my present life partner supporting me or frustrating the achievement of my objectives?
Am I still sexually desirable?
Am I still sexually active?
How long do I believe I’m actually going to live?
And how am I going to live the years that remain for me?
Do I want to spend the rest of my life in a marriage or enjoying casual relationships?
And, perhaps above all, what will be spiritually fulfilling to me?
In some sense passion is the thing that drives every aspect of human life. That doesn’t necessarily mean sexual passion, it just means passion in the sense of a fervent desire to pursue something you can pour all of your energies into. Finding something you love to do is essential for your spiritual fulfilment.
And it’s not just about having a hobby that you enjoy: it’s about finding something that actually generates excitement and exhilaration as well commitment to your own future. Gail Sheehy talks about reaching back into your own adolescence to find the dream that slipped past you without your noticing it go by. What was that idea, that dream, the thing that motivated you, that you always wanted to achieve or to do?
(I don’t agree with this. What motivates you in midlife can be very different than what motivated you earlier in life, but it’s not a bad way of starting to identify what your passion might be in the years ahead. But it’s true that a life without purpose is a spiritually empty life. And there is a fundamental link between finding the passionate pursuit that will enliven the second half of your life, and reopening the doorway to sexual pleasure, real intimacy, and companionship.)
The most profound aspect of this philosophy is the belief that the object is to reach mature love and a sense of meaning and purpose that lasts until the end of your life. Gail Sheehy also claims that the third thread of the passionate life is spiritual exploration: meditation, prayer, yoga; indeed anything that leads to a deeper understanding of your place in relationship to the world could be seen as a spiritual pastime. What to make of this?
For those who have come here looking for advice on how to be sexier after 50, talk about spiritual pastimes and a meaningful purpose in life may be somewhat overwhelming.
I don’t believe that it’s actually necessary for somebody to have an overarching spiritual sense to rekindle their sexual desire, nor do I believe it’s essential to have a purpose in life to be happy: I think life can be lived perfectly well in the absence of deep spiritual fulfillment as long as there are plenty of small but meaningful episodes in everyday life that sustain you spiritually. Indeed, the principle behind all of this website is that great sex within the context of a good life is easily achievable for everyone, at all ages.
But I agree that if you have a spiritual sense, or your life is graced by a sense of spiritual purpose, then it’s possible to reach deeper levels of intimacy and connection with your partner during sex.
On a simple and practical level, it’s worth quoting what one of Sheehy’s interviewees said: “The more a woman enjoys whatever activity she is doing, the more she radiates joy and energy for life. This acts as a beacon that attracts people, including possible life companions.”
It’s quite clear, however, that many people entering midlife feel the need for a change: a change in relationship, perhaps from one that lacks intimacy, companionship and sex to one that will provide more nurturing for the soul; perhaps a seeking out of a spiritually fulfilling occupation or community (or even a hobby or pastime that nurtures one in this way); or a change in the level and frequency of sex and the persons with whom you enjoy it.
A life lived passionately is likely to be a life in which the enjoyment of sex features predominantly. But what if your libido is low, you feel low little or no interest in sex, or, even worse, you feel that the possibility of sex has diminished so much that you’re not even interested whether you ever make love again or not?
Happily, there are some very clear answers to these questions and we’ll be dealing with them in specific detail later on. That includes the issue of low sex drive for women, low sex drive for men, and unequal sex drive within a couple’s relationship.
Gail Sheehy talks of the five phases of a passionate existence in midlife.
Phase 1 The Romantic Renaissance
She describes it as a period in which something or somebody reawakens your senses, both sensual and emotional, and you rediscover the power and excitement of “the romance of the new”.
This is indeed the power and passion that you experienced in your youth with your first young love — a type of personal energy which can serve to remind you that you’re still a sexual woman. (For a long-married couple who are still together and wish to stay that way, the romance of the new can be sparked in unexpected ways, such as the first holiday they have together after the departure of the last child from the family home).
In the context of a personal relationship, or a new dream, or a new spiritual focus, the excitement and romance of the new can propel woman towards a new and passionate life. When you’re in this phase you live completely in the moment, escaping worries about the future and untouched by the emotional consequences of the past.
In terms of romantic and sexual relationships, the romantic renaissance is often a short lived affair, but it can serve to bring you back in touch with the sexual side of your being.
Given the opportunity to seize a chance to reconnect with sexual energy, many people in midlife have taken what another man or woman has to offer, even when they know that the person is not a suitable long-term mate or partner.
Such sex is a wonderful gift from another person and doesn’t provide just fantastic sex — or even just a reawakening of the spirit; it can reawakened the soul to the glories of life. You can part without regrets, holding only fond memories and gratitude for the experience you’ve had. Many women and men who begin dating again in midlife will find a partner who gives them the gift of great sex and new sexual skills, helping them to move on in their search for a new existence.
Phase 2: Learning to be alone with your new self.
For women who’ve spent all of their lives looking after others, or feeling dependent on a husband, partner, job, place or other person, it may be hard to live alone and be content with that.
But it’s essential that a woman knows how to be alone without feeling abandoned before she leaves the structure of her current life to search for something new.
The pain of loss and abandonment can be considerable, as many women who have been divorced and left to fend for themselves by husbands who have searched out younger partners can testify.
But this doesn’t need to happen. By using a series of exercises which help you to shed any inappropriate and outmoded rules and regulations that have governed your life up till now, you can change the beliefs which underpin your philosophy of life.
And by gaining the social skills you may need to acquire to strike out independently in the world, you’ll move beyond projecting desperation into a level of satisfaction with your own company which is likely to give you the opportunity for personal growth as well as widening your imagination about the realm of the future possibilities that lie ahead of you.
Phase 3 : The boldness to dream.
Sheehy quotes Goethe, who wrote: “Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. / Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.” It is simply time to strike out with the dream of passion, whether in a sexual or personal sense.
Phase 4: Soul Seeking
This describes the dramatic change in needs which can occur for somebody in their 50s. Certainly, the shadow of death lies ahead of us — death being the one certainty for all of us — and this means people may change their priorities, they may look towards the light of faith, or they may become more spiritual in some very personal way.
A person who doesn’t go through this fundamental change in philosophy or spirituality is likely to remain unfulfilled or uncertain as they move through life, and may perhaps fear death when it approaches.
One of the best antidote is to the anxiety of later middle age to have a deep and meaningful connection with another person, sometimes from a marriage that began years ago and has grown steadily as times have gone by, and sometimes from a new start in midlife. This can occur when a person knows deep in their souls that what they have is not enough and they need to seek more.
Of course, new connections can be found in all kinds of places: within a reinvigorated marriage or existing relationship, with a lover outside marriage, within a romantic friendship, and even with a same-sex partner. You might relight the fires of passion for an old flame or friend, or begin a new relationship.
Every story is individual and there are potentially as many variations on the theme as there are individuals in the world! Nonetheless, we’re all made of the same genetic and biological material, and fundamentally we all have the same developmental stages….and need for support, love and spiritual fulfillment, whatever that means for you.
Which Sheehy describes as the gold at the end of life. For those who are able to incorporate their passion and their dream with the practical matters of living, there should be greater confidence, fulfilment, and self-acceptance than at any other point in life.
A broader view of life in the short time you have left to live can be a catalyst for the growth of wider love, a form of love that is expressed through giving to community and loving others outside relationship, friends or family; a love shown through your actions — which might include giving creatively, or philosophically, or through some kind of activism for a cause that you espouse. It’s a phase of life in which your goals are realigned and you think about what you will leave behind when you’ve gone.
This is still underpinned by passion, a passion which may spread into love for and with another human being.
The sexual path after fifty – wanting a passionate life
If you’ve not had sex for years, perhaps a decade or more, meeting the right person can revitalize the spark and bring back what you felt was dormant within you. You might have concerns about finding the right person, but the evidence suggests that this is misplaced.
The 2003 AARP study of lifestyles and dating among midlife singles revealed that 75% of women who divorced in their 50s enjoyed a serious one-to-one relationship soon after their divorce, sometimes as early as within two years. (Among men, 81% found a new serious one-to-one relationship.)
There are plenty of ways to find a new relationship: the primary one these days seems to be Internet dating. Gail Sheehy reports that amongst 15,000 respondents to a study conducted by a sociologist at California State University, 50% of women say they are getting more dates, more sex, and more lasting love from online dating adverts than they would by conventional dating.
It’s easy to find out much about a man online by exchanging e-mails with him, a procedure that avoids the tedium of a two-hour dinner if the guy happens to turn out to be totally unsuitable.
Sure, it takes a degree of confidence and enterprise to use online dating services, but like everything else in life, the only way to discover the advantages and benefits is to plunge right in. If you’re interested in doing this we recommend Eharmony.com and Match.com.
Certainly if you’re one of the many women who are feeling a sense of “I can’t go on like this much longer”, then you’re feeling the pull of midlife towards a more passionate existence, and you need to do something about it. And while those are easy words to say, how do you face the enormity of separation or divorce or even leaving a long established partner at a time in life where traditionally you might well have never been able to find another one?
Well, for one thing, we live in a time when women are more empowered than ever before: according to a 2004 study of divorce in midlife by the AARP, two thirds of divorces among couples over aged 40 are initiated by the women; and one third of divorced or single women over 40 are dating younger men; and a single woman in her 50s is more likely to be divorced or never married than widowed.
What has changed here is that women have realized a degree of economic empowerment over the last decade or two that has enabled them to achieve both practical and emotional freedom.
Women are likely to precipitate divorce simply because they can, because they’re in unsatisfactory relationships with men who can’t give them what they know they need.
Along with economic power and better education comes emotional liberation; so nowadays women who suffer the challenges and difficulties of relationships that are far from satisfactory can only tolerate these problems for so long before their true selves emerge and compel them to seek out greater freedom.
No matter that as a woman you may stay with the man for the sake of the children, or for social appearances, or for some other reason; if you’re unhappy, there’ll be a time where you need to seek your own true destiny – whether that be sexual, spiritual, and emotional.
Sometimes a woman’s decision to divorce is initiated by a lack of sex, or by the fact that the husband has established a sexual relationship with another woman; in other cases it is because the husband is alcoholic or chronically abusive in some way, or even that he simply ignores his partner.
All of these situations can provoke women to seek out new dreams and new goals. Of course one of the big issues for women in this situation is whether to actually break up the relationship in the first place or continue with things the way they are.
Many so-called WMD’s want to know what’s on the other side of the break-up before they take the initiative. This emphasizes that having a passionate belief or a desire to pursue some important personal objective can provide the propulsion to make the move out of a failing relationship.
In her book Sex and the Seasoned Woman, Gail Sheehy provides plenty of examples drawn from real life women whom she interviewed while writing her account of midlife changes. We heartily recommend this book.
Rediscovering dreams may not be easy if you’re living in a conservative community or among friends and family who have expectations that you’ll behave in a certain way, or fulfill certain social “requirements”.
But if making a sudden and dramatic break such as divorce or separation is impossible, you might well ask if it’s possible to reach a different place through a personal evolution, through personal growth.
The answer is “yes”, it is possible, but there are many things to consider, not least amongst them the fact that when one person in a relationship begins to grow, the status quo is disrupted and the other partner is likely to respond in a way intended to maintain the status quo.
It’s a classic dilemma: how to break out of the old pattern of finding your new self without breaking away from family, friends or community?
Gail Sheehy talks about the paradox of love with dual impulses: first, to stay merged, or surrendered, or attached to a stronger person who will anticipate or meet all our needs; second, the opposite impulse to seek independence, become separate, explore your capacities and become masters of your own destiny.
These two needs — one for intimacy, and one for connection with our individuality — struggle for dominance throughout our lives, and it’s quite natural that as we approach midlife, the balance between them will be upset. This tension often plays out in a long-term relationship within the area of intimacy.
There can often be a dramatic divergence between the physical, sexual connection of a couple and the intimate connection of emotional closeness (i.e. sex continues but intimacy vanishes, or the other way round).
Sometimes change comes so quickly that one person within a couple becomes unfocused and rudderless, without a clear path to follow whilst the other builds a new way of life. This imbalance may provoke a renegotiation of the terms of the marriage, or it may provoke a separation in which each person has the opportunity to find what they want to do in the next decades.
Some women and men who find themselves single in crisis set out a list of expectations for their new partner-to-be which are completely unrealistic.
Incredibly high expectations may be appealing but are very unrealistic; and they are certainly not compatible with the personal growth in midlife that can lead you to a more realistic view of your own place in the world and among the people around you.
Any expectations that don’t include an appreciation of human frailty and understanding that a new relationship is an opportunity to grow together to a more spiritual and emotionally connected place are likely to be expectations that induce you to act like your own worst enemy.
Also keep in mind that men and women over 50 don’t have as much energy as they did when they were younger, don’t have bodies that are as perfect as they used to be, and probably don’t have the qualities that would attract a younger person.
Nonetheless the assertiveness and confidence that comes to somebody who is truly growing into their midlife self can provide more than enough energy and persistence to make sure that you don’t remain stuck as a single sexless person, instead finding a new, exciting and passionate life
We mentioned above the phases that Sheehy uses to describe the passage in midlife: the first is the romantic renaissance. It’s a recapitulation of the excitement of the heady days of adolescent romance, an exciting, passionate phase where obsession with the new love object or your new purpose in life precedes the passage into a more reflective, quieter phase of incorporation and integration.
Of course new romantic love can strike at any time in life — it’s just that our cynicism from the wounds that life often inflicts on us as we age may make us feel it’s not going to happen to us.
But it can happen: it can happen to a woman who is divorced, or a woman who is not looking for love, just as easily as it can happen to woman in a long-term relationship who rediscovers her passion and excitement for her husband or partner when they go out on a date after the last child has left home.
It’s been called a “sweet sickness”, but I think that is too negative for a vital part of our human existence — the energy and passion of romantic love or infatuation that drives us on to seek new connection, to explore relationship further, and to grow as an individual.
Dr. Helen Fisher has researched love and sex extensively, and she believes that love is one of the most powerful forces in the human being — certainly more powerful than the drive to have sex.
What makes romantic love so different at the age of 50 or 60 than when you’re 15 or 20 is the fact that you have more options open to you, more wisdom and knowledge, and you can do so many more interesting things.
Helen Fisher’s Ted Talk
You bring a rounder, more mature, more informed self to the relationship, and if your partner brings the same qualities, then the potential for more meaningful interaction is much greater than it was when you experienced romantic love during your adolescence.
Sheehy puts it like this: a woman without a partner in middle life must be both hungry enough and bold enough to put effort into seeking a partner — or at least hungry enough or bold enough to put out signals that she is available.
One of the more striking and positive observations that Sheehy found repeated again and again amongst happy mature couples is that the departure of children from the family home can cause a resurgence of romantic love and lead to a truly passionate relationship once again.
No matter that couples move in and out of love as they go through life: the potential for truly exciting romantic love is always there. You may have noticed how the fires of passion are rekindled in your relationship when you go on a vacation, and have more time to devote to your partner.
When you’re passionate about something or someone, sex tends to resurge; equally, passion may provide a couple with enough fuel to go out together and seek new interests. If you remember the feelings that you experienced the first time you fell passionately in love, you’ll recall how dramatically the power of romantic love, of passion, can transform you! Indeed, romantic love can create the energy and impetus to begin new passages in life and undertake new endeavors.
Psychologist Judith Wallerstein asserts that a richly rewarding and stable sex life is not just a fringe benefit of a relationship — she says it’s a central task in a relationship. She maintains that sex serves a very serious purpose in maintaining both the quality and stability of your relationship, serving to replenish emotional reserves and strengthening the bond between the couple.
Revitalizing your sex life, is essential for stability and joy in the marriages or relationships of those who are approaching midlife; indeed, she claims that the greatest contrast between those who are happily together and those who are splitting up may well lie in the sexual arena. What shows this more clearly than anything else is that couples who are splitting up have usually not had sex for several years.
So when you undergo a romantic renaissance you can expect to be happy, you can expect to be energized, and you can expect to go through the feelings of an adolescent in love for the first time. You can make a real connection with a person who understands you and who wants to be with you, a person who thinks you’re the brightest thing on the planet’s surface….. and if lust sweeps over you in this phase of romance, then so much the better!
Lust is a natural human desire for physical connection and sexual satisfaction. Within a woman it can remain dormant for a long long time — many decades in fact — but it is always there to be revived and renewed when the right circumstances unfold.
Many older women now feel free to date younger, sometimes much younger, men. In a way this is a rebalancing of the equation that has existed for decades whereby it’s been quite acceptable for older men to date younger women, while those women who were seeking younger male partners were criticized. Women looking for younger men are often divorced women who’ve lived a life with no emotional intimacy.
They are now looking for fun, for flirtation, for somebody to actually appreciate or even idealize them; they may want somebody who shares their interests or they may want somebody who isn’t threatened by their achievements and isn’t dependent on them. Being able to use online dating services has enabled women to achieve this unexpected new freedom, and allowed them to find excitement, passion and often rejuvenation.
And while these romances may not be permanent, they can be transformative: in my work with both men and women I’ve known many individuals who have said that a single relationship, whether short-term or long-term — sometimes only for an evening or a night — has actually acted as a catalyst for the release of a whole series of transformative experiences, often sexual in nature. For those over 50 who have been part of a long-term relationship, sex may have become routine and boring.
There are few things more exciting than a young passionate lover, one whose adeptness at making love both gives you great pleasure and teaches you new techniques. But while the possibility of finding true love exists in such a relationship, it’s much more likely that relationships like this serve as catalysts for personal development.
information you need to know if you are over fifty!